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Digging into urban agriculture

May 5, 2013

You may have heard of GOOD Magazine, but did you know that GOOD went local? Beginning just this year, GOOD has been gathering volunteers in major cities across the nation,  including Chicago and Los Angeles, to help spread “GOOD things” (the puns don’t stop here) around. GOOD Chicago’s inaugural event was to focus on something close to home for the Every Last Morsel team — local food. So when Todd was asked to moderate the panel on urban agriculture, he couldn’t wait to help the GOOD Chicago chapter get off the ground. And I, never having been to the venue, couldn’t wait to document it.

The event, held at Uncommon Ground, in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, brought together about 50 Chicagoans interested in becoming part of Chicago’s growing urban agriculture movement. It started with a detailed tour of the Uncommon Ground rooftop farm, the first certified organic rooftop farm in the country. Yes, the country!


We learned about the newly installed solar panels (there’s 84 of them in total) above the parking lot that are used to charge two zero omission iGo cars.

iGo cars

Almost every inch of extra space at Uncommon Ground is being used for growing. The greenery you see along the side of the building — those are currants, grapes, chives, sage, tarragon, strawberries, and other edibles. Who needs decorative plants when you can put your flower beds to “GOOD use”. Get it?

Uncommon Ground Devon

Then, we made our way up to the rooftop where we learned about the best wood choice for raised gardens, cedar, because of it’s natural resistance to rotting.

Rooftop farm

Rooftop garden

Not only is Uncommon Ground home to an array of plants, but also bees. See those white crates in the back? They’re bee hives! Only one made it through the winter, but that’s still impressive for the windy city.

Urban beekeeping Chicago

We drank some local brews on a particularly warm, spring evening and got a little advice for starting our own gardens. Best tips? Fertilize and use cover crops. If you want to make the most of your small, urban space you’ll need to keep the soil healthy.


Urban agriculture event

The food grown on the rooftop is used entirely for the restaurant below. You can’t eat much more local than that.

Rooftop restaurants Chicago

Following the tour, we returned inside the restaurant for a panel discussion, featuring a variety of local, urban agriculture thought leaders including: Helen Cameron (Co-Founder of Uncommon Ground), Alex Poltorak (The Urban Canopy), Ramon Gonzalez (Mr. Brown Thumb), Fritze Roberts (Rogers Park Garden Group), Michael Thompson (The Chicago Honey Co-op), and Breanne Heath (Growing Home).

Urban agriculture panel

We uncovered the challenges to growing on a rooftop (wind, water is heavy, and the soil requires more attention). We learned what “hydroponic” means (growing with little-to-no soil using nutrient-heavy water). We learned that there’s infinite possibilities for starting your own garden (Know that space between the curb and the sidewalk? Yep, it’s public property. You can grow something in it!) We even learned that urban environments are good for beekeeping (flowers, fauna, and people are all here).



After some great discussion we walked away knowing how to start or join a garden in our community. We also learned that there are so many ways to get more involved. Buy local, try CSAs, drink local wines and spirits, and grow in whatever space you can find. The local urban agriculture scene is bigger than you think. All you have to do is ask around. In the spirit of GOOD — get to know your neighbors! You might be surprised what kind of green thumbs you’ll find in your own backyard.

To learn more about GOOD Chicago and meet the team, head over to the GOOD website. To see more photos from the event visit Every Last Morsel on Facebook.

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